Happy 150th birthday Heath Robinson

Image above: Detail from ‘Testing artificial teeth in a modern tooth works’ (full picture below), reproduced courtesy of the Heath Robinson museum

Guest blog by Lucinda MacPherson

2022 marks the 150th birthday of William Heath Robinson, the internationally renowned cartoonist, illustrator and artist. His art was so distinctive that his name is included in the English dictionary, synonymous with whimsically complicated machines and inventions to execute the simplest and often pointless tasks.

His eponymous museum in northwest London is celebrating with events to appeal to all ages throughout 2022. Set in Pinner Memorial Park, the museum overlooks a lake and is next-door to a small aviary and a popular café in West House, once the home of the grandson of Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, so it’s a perfect setting.

The building is designed to imitate his more eccentric creations with wiggly ducts and coils of cable, and is home to the world’s largest collection of Heath Robinson drawings, including landscapes and intricate book illustrations. Visitors can explore Heath Robinson’s life and artistic development in their permanent gallery which features a timeline, original artworks and interactive exhibits.

Images above: Testing artificial teeth in a modern tooth works,1929; Doubling Gloucester cheeses by the Gruyere method in an old Gloucester cheese works when cheese is scarce, 1940; © The Heath Robinson Museum

Until Sunday 15 May their temporary gallery is exhibiting Heath Robinson’s Children’s Stories featuring his book illustrations. Then The Humour of William Heath Robinson exhibition will open on Saturday 21 May charting the development of his witty style and range of subjects.

Visitors can enjoy satirical cartoons showing straight faced individuals undertaking seriously daft endeavours. Organisations and institutions, the laws of physics and the workings of fate are all the butt of his gentle humour.

Wartime humour

Ironically, it was World War I that established Heath Robinson as a comic genius, with his use of gentle irony to counter enemy propaganda and to relieve the fear and depression both at home and abroad.  His work still speaks to our times, whether it be living in confined spaces or facing the madness of war.

Images above: German breaches of the Hague Convention – Huns using siphons of laughing gas to overcome our troops before an attack in close formation, 1915_Image;  Here they come – Disguised parachutists receive a warm welcome © The Heath Robinson Museum

Family day out and the Heath Robinson challenge

To celebrate his actual birthday, on Tuesday 31 May, all are invited to a fun-filled family day out on the lawns surrounding the museum, and to take part in wacky Heath Robinson inspired activities.

The birthday party will include a fair with stalls, games, exhibitions, activities and performances that relate to Heath Robinson (aka the Gadget King). Pit your wits against the engineering challenges: build the tallest structure, the strongest bridge or fastest/slowest/wobbliest vehicles out of junk or K’nex, Lego or Meccano.

There will be demonstrations of large interactive gadgets such as the cyclostomper. The star attraction will be the social media sensation Joseph Herscher who has performed worldwide in museums and at the Venice Biennale.

Joseph will give a talk about his machines, relating them to Heath Robinson’s gadgets and will run a workshop which challenges groups to build their own machine. Come and witness the culmination of Heath Robinson’s birthday celebrations – the valiant attempt to connect the machines in one long transfer of energy to achieve a simple task – Very Tricky. Very Silly. Very Heath Robinson!

Images above: How to take advantage of the Savoy Orpheans’ dance music broadcast by the BBC without disturbing your neighbour in the flat below, 1928; The intellectual summer holiday, 1925; © The Heath Robinson Museum

Heath Robinson Museum, Pinner Memorial Park, West End Lane, Pinner HA5 1AE


Opening Times: Thursday – Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Entry to the exhibitions included in cost of museum entry.

Images above: Heath Robinson style contraption and children’s artwork at the museum

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

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See also: Jan Pieńkowski’s gift to Chiswick

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